February, 2018

Short Story

Box of Chocolates

The curse of the black crow.


This is my native place. A leafy, beautiful little village near Ratnagiri, nestled between forested hills on three sides and a roaring sea on one. A place where mangoes, jackfruit and playful laughter were in as much abundance as the plentiful memories of summer holidays and Diwali vacations spent with 3 uncles, 4 aunts, 10 cousins and 2 brothers under the watchful eyes of our ajoba and aji. The whole household would be bustling with activity from morning till night with the ladies busy with the household chores and the men helping them with everything. Yes, unbelievable, but true. The men in the Natekar family are all excellent cooks and would do everything from cleaning to cooking – something significant in the context of that time and place. Anyway, this story is about the black crow that came visiting one summer morning.

It was one such bright sunny morning when the crow came into our lives. I must have been around 10 then and had just woken up from deep sleep. Rubbing my eyes, I came into the veranda of our home to see one of my aunts sitting on a chair on the far side. As was the custom then, I walked across to wish her when I was accosted with “Don’t go near her and don’t touch her”. That was another of my aunt admonishing me gently.

“Why? What happened to her?”

“She’s been touched by a crow”

“So? What happens if a crow touches her and I touch her after that?”

“If a crow touches you, you get cursed. And if you touch that person knowingly it is a sin and you will go to hell.” Her tone was enough to indicate the end of the conversation.

Well, that would have satisfied my curiosity but for one simple thing. There wasn’t one goddamn crow in our village. You would find it surprising but there really wasn’t one to be found. In all my summers spent there so far, I have not heard one squawk of a crow, let alone see one. And that set me thinking, there was more to it than met the eye. I spread that news amongst my cousins and we all wondered what the fuss was about. We kept looking for crows all over the farm and the garden beyond and saw two porcupines, one python lazing by the well, one brahmani kite but not one goddamn crow! Who would believe that? The elder cousins (sisters) seemed to know something about it but we were shushed aggressively when we asked them about the mysterious crow. When asked about it the menfolk changed the topic with humour and laughter. My aunt’s isolation went on for the next 4 days. We used to see her sleeping in one corner, eating her meals by herself which were left near her and not handed to her, by the maids. And one day we saw her mingling with everyone once the curse of the crow was ‘lifted’. I summed up the courage to go up to her and asked her ” How come you were the only person the crow touched and where?” She laughed and said ” You will find out when you get older” and walked away. What did solving the mystery of the crow have to do with growing old, I wondered. A week later, one of my older cousins was found sitting on the chair in the corner and the mystery continued… Where was the goddamn crow and why was he touching only the women in the family? What the hell was going on?

If you are guessing the answer to the mystery already, you are probably right and smart!

The mystery did get solved years later when I came to know about menstruation and periods from friends in school. Even now when I go to my village and sit in the veranda soaking up the nostalgia of childhood spent there and the reminiscing of all the fun we had as kids, unknowingly my eyes still try to search for that elusive crow and I break into laughter!

Footnote: Even in today’s time and age well educated and urban women still believe that menstruation is taboo. They do not enter temples, sit for poojas in the house thinking it will contaminate the space. If educated and liberated women think like this, can you imagine what it would be still like in villages and smaller towns? It is up to us to ensure that we treat as normal, what really is normal physiologically in a woman. And each one of us can make the change. There is no need to whisper and there is nothing about it that needs to be hushed down. Always remember, it all starts with you.